Alcatraz #1259

Like previously mentioned on the blog, I’ve always been intrigued by Alcatraz. As I was lucky to get to visit in 2019, and after reading the book I bought from the book store there, I later on ordered another one. This is it it.

So the book in question, titled Alcatraz #1259, by William G. Baker, a former inmate of Alcatraz was purchase some time ago. I started to read it, but then lost interest on it, and it got “stuck” on my bookshelf. A while back I decided to try read it again, and as it was some time since I started the book the first time, I now started from the beginning again.

The book cover of Alcatraz #1259

The book starts off when Mr. Baker starts the boat trip to Alcatraz, and that sucks the reader immediately into the place and time in question. And reading is made easy, but detailed enough to really set the atmosphere, either you’ve been to the site or not. Bill for his high age of 80 as of writing the book remember’s very much, and taken into consideration how much he has experienced, it’s astonishing to me.

“Every word in this book is true to the best of my memory of events and conversation that took place while I was serving time at Alcatraz and that I witnessed with my own eyes and heard with my own ears and felt with my own heart. As I write this I am eighty years old, and while today I may forget where I put my false teeth last night, like many old men I have a clear and vivid memory of events and conversations that happened in my youth many, many years ago. This is the true account of that time in my life when I was a bad boy.

Warning—strong language in character with a prison environment. This account is told from the viewpoint of the Alcatraz convict.”

William G. Baker 1259-AZ

Compared to the image in my head of the prison and times of the book. And from the memories of the previous book about Alcatraz, the picture Baker paints by word is clearly lighter, and not that dark. In the previous book the prison was portrayed clearly darker and exhausting from a mental side. An interesting side was that from the book, I got the picture that Bill Baker had a small group of friends. I have been in the understanding, that there were not many inmates at any given time, and that all the inmates more or less knew everybody there. But from Bakers book, the image I got was hat he didn’t know that many. Might be miss-understanding or miss-interpretations by me. I checked up on this, and according to the website alcatrazhistory.com, they write the following.

The highest number ever recorded was 302, and the lowest number 222. The average number of inmates during the 29 years of service was around 260. There were approximately 1545 total…

alcatrazhistory.com

Sure, 222 persons are a lot, not saying, but as they were in a prison, I’m a bit surprised that the image I got from the book is that Baker didn’t know that many.

William G. Baker at Alcatraz island. San Fransisco in the background.
“As one of the last living Alcatraz convicts, I realize we will soon be extinct, leaving only the lowly seagulls to commemorate our passing, and I’m okay with that, for they are noble in their own way.”

As in the previous book, William G. Baker also writes by a large portion of the book, from the time he spent in Oregon State Prison. I understand that many things in the book has connections in his time there, but dedicating that large of the portion of the book, to just telling of time he spent there was a small disappointment. As I read this book from the beginning again, I remembered why my attention and interest did not carry thru the whole book the first, and that reason was this Oregon State Prison portion of the book. Compare to the first Alcatraz book I read, this had a greater section dedicated to another time, in another prison.

Another thing that surprises me from Bakers book is how in his mind, criminal deeds aren’t totally bad. I can understand that during these times, they could not see the wrong in the crimes, as they obviously had shortcoming in handling respect for other persons and properties, that’s why they did crimes and ended up in prison, but to not have an epilog where to remind and encourage people to stay on the right side of the law, I think is sad to see. For instance, at two different places in the book, Baker utters something in the line of; robbing a bank, or frauding checks is totally ok, and does not make man bad in any way, but IF the person would back-talk, or deceive another inmate, that person would be judged and convicted between inmates.

“The Alcatraz recreation yard. See the concrete bleachers in the background where we used to sit high up and look out over the bay, and where the convict artists took their easels to paint freedom.”

So was the book worth the money and time, I’de say yes. Not the best book I read, neither the best book on Alcatraz, but a good ready anyway. Interesting stories and a pretty good compilation of William G. Baker time in Alcatraz.

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